Teachers restore connection

Rachael Wolfson 

More stories from Rachael Wolfson

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Photo Courtesy of Josephine Meriot

English teacher Jenelle Ryan leads her classroom behind a mask. It’s been a challenge this year, but Ryan has enjoyed being back in the classroom with her students.

Last year was definitely a hard year for students. But what about teachers? They had to overcome several struggles last year, such as dealing with new technology and troubles connecting with students. Even now that teachers are back in the building, they are still facing challenges, as they have had to now re-adjust from distance to in-person teaching.

One of the things that was particularly difficult for teachers last year was learning the new technology. Most of the teachers had always used Google Classroom. So, when MCPS mandated that all teachers use Canvas, it was a struggle for many teachers to adjust to that new platform. Janelle Ryan, a ninth grade English teacher expressed this challenge.

“We rolled out MYMCPS classroom, as a replacement for Google Classroom and it became mandatory for us to use that. So for me, that was the biggest difficulty I had was just learning that technology,” Ryan said.

In addition, teachers had trouble connecting with their students through Zoom. Margaret Schlichter, who was a new French teacher last year, had this trouble along with many other teachers.

“It was very hard to make a connection with students if they didn’t have their cameras on, if they weren’t there. It was really hard to know if kids were struggling in any way,” Schlichter said.

This year, many teachers are combining online resources, as well as using paper and pencil. While many teachers are still using MYMCPS Classroom to post materials, some teachers are returning to “old school” approaches to minimize how much students are looking at screens.

“I’m kind of appreciative of [MYMCPS Classroom] because now I think I’ve reached more of a happy medium. I’m still posting all of my materials online but I’m trying to be flexible with students who prefer paper — giving them opportunities to annotate on paper or to even hand in paper copies of assignments,” Ryan said.

In addition, one of the biggest things that teachers have had to adjust to this year is the mask wearing. It’s very hard for teachers to not only recognize their students in masks but also understand what their students are saying. Ryan has had this problem in her classroom.

“I can’t hear what the students are saying with their masks. And sometimes I don’t even know which student answered, like if somebody called out something, I’m looking around and saying who said that?” Ryan said.

In general, it makes the teachers uncomfortable to have to keep asking students to repeat themselves.

Mask wearing isn’t the only thing teachers have had to adjust to. It has also been hard for teachers to get back to a seven-day period. James Grimes, one of the science teachers has had trouble adjusting back to the old schedule.

“Getting back to the routine, getting up and driving…you didn’t realize it was tiring. It was just getting back to the grind,” Grimes said.

However, despite these challenges, teachers are happy to be back in the building with their students and doing their best to support them. “I’m looking forward to really getting to know my students in person…underneath my mask, I’m smiling to try to make people feel at ease,” Schlichter said.

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